12 Sony WM1A aIf you’ve never heard of a flugelhorn you’ve probably never heard of Chuck Mangione, very possibly the world’s most successful flugel player. A flugelhorn looks like a trumpet but the tubes are wider and it’s a tad more vertical. It sounds like a trumpet too, only more mellow. Mangione started off playing trumpet but abandoned it for a flugel and in 1977 released Feels So Good, a single that reached number four on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and topped its Easy Listening chart. Lots of people who have the recording still think he’s playing a trumpet.

I first heard Chuck on flugel in a 1973 album called Land of Make Believe, which I bought mainly for the vocals of Esther Satterfield. I wore that record out and replaced it with the CD, and that turned into one of my earliest digital music files.

Aye, there’s the rub. It was only when I was using Sony’s WM1A portable and Oppo headphones that I noticed Chuck and Esther sounded thin and top endy. No other tracks had the problem. Eventually I discovered I’d made the transfer all those years ago in AAC. Everything else on the playlist was in FLAC at CD quality or better. AAC at higher bitrates is pretty good but the WM1A makes what shortcomings it has obvious.

12 Sony WM1A cI’ve listened to lots of expensive digital portables, some costing lots more than the WM1A, but this is the one I’d buy. Two reasons: First the sound quality is fabulous and everything you’d expect for $1349. It handles major storage formats at resolutions beyond the ability of most of us to discern. With high definition Bluetooth there’s premium streaming sound quality to equipment that has matching Bluetooth, and as well as a conventional headphone socket it has a 4.4 mm balanced output for headphones that have a suitable plug. They’re catching on slowly.

But it was the second reason that sold me. It’s easy to use.

The 128-gigabyte internal memory holds a mountain of music, even at high resolutions, and it’s supplemented by a mini-SD drive that takes the same again or more. Switching between them is seamless. Select the track you want and it plays whether it be in the internal memory or the SD.

The menus are straightforward and intuitive and the playback screen is your choice of cover art, a spectrum analyser (a dozen little bar graphs from 50 Hertz, rising and falling to the music), analogue VU meters or a couple of peak meters above the cover art. I did like VUs.

12 Sony WM1A dThe accompanying software for the computer, called Music Center (sic) can get frustrating. To me it’s well short of the MediaGo software it replaced, which adds to my frustration. My advice is to ignore it. It’s easier and faster to drag and drop straight from your music files and do everything else with the portable.

The trick with the WM1A is finding dealers with stock of them, and ideally a unit on demo. Even buying one through the Sony website involves a delivery time of at least six weeks. You have to be keen.

By the way, there are other famous flugelhorn players but the one you’ll most likely recall is Gloria in the movie Brassed Off. Played by Tara Fitzgerald she was the one sent to the coal mine from the dark side to figure if it should be closed. Band leader Danny accepts her into his fold not knowing this, but when she’s busted lets her stay on because, as he observes: “That girl blows a flugel like a dream.”

First published by smh.com.au April 2019.


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